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McClanahan v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

November 18, 2016

DIANA McCLANAHAN, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S ALTERNATIVE MOTION FOR REMAND

          Thomas M. DiGirolamo, United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Diana McClanahan seeks judicial review under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Defendant” or the “Commissioner”) denying her applications for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. Before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and alternative motion for remand (ECF No. 16) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 17).[1] Plaintiff contends that the administrative record does not contain substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's decision that she is not disabled. No hearing is necessary. L.R. 105.6. For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's alternative motion for remand (ECF No. 16) is GRANTED.

         I.

         Background

         Plaintiff was born in 1961, has a high-school education, and previously worked as a mail clerk and certified nursing assistant. R. at 17, 181, 190. Plaintiff protectively filed applications for DIB and SSI on June 29, 2012, alleging disability beginning on January 1, 2010, due to bipolar disorder and osteoarthritis. R. at 131-54, 190, 199. The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's applications initially and again on reconsideration, so Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). R. at 54-112, 115-16. On July 8, 2014, ALJ Alfred J. Costanzo held a hearing at which Plaintiff and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. R. at 24-53. At the hearing, Plaintiff amended her alleged onset date of disability to November 25, 2011. R. at 27. On August 14, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled from the amended alleged onset date of disability of November 25, 2011, through the date of the decision. R. at 7-23. Plaintiff sought review of this decision by the Appeals Council, which denied Plaintiff's request for review on November 5, 2015. R. at 1-6. The ALJ's decision thus became the final decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481; see also Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-07, 120 S.Ct. 2080, 2083 (2000).

         On January 7, 2016, Plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court seeking review of the Commissioner's decision. Upon the parties' consent, this case was transferred to a United States Magistrate Judge for final disposition and entry of judgment. The case subsequently was reassigned to the undersigned. The parties have briefed the issues, and the matter is now fully submitted.

         II.

         Summary of Evidence

         A. State Agency Medical Consultants

         On October 17, 2012, a state agency consultant, Maurice Prout, Ph.D., using the psychiatric review technique (“PRT”) under 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520a and 416.920a, evaluated Plaintiff's mental impairments under Listing 12.04 relating to affective disorders (R. at 58-59, 68-69). See 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1, § 12.04. Dr. Prout opined that, under paragraph B of the applicable listing, Plaintiff's mental impairments caused her to experience (1) mild restriction in activities of daily living; (2) moderate difficulties in maintaining social functioning; (3) mild difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace; and (4) one or two repeated episodes of decompensation of extended duration. R. at 58, 68. Dr. Prout did not find evidence to establish the presence of the criteria under paragraph C of the applicable listing. R. at 58, 68. Dr. Prout thus assessed Plaintiff's mental residual functional capacity (“RFC”) (R. at 61-62, 71-72) and opined that she was moderately limited in her ability to (1) interact appropriately with the general public; (2) accept instructions and to respond appropriately to criticism from supervisors; and to (3) get along with co-workers or peers without distracting them or exhibiting behavioral extremes. Plaintiff otherwise was not significantly limited. R. at 61-62, 71-72.

         On November 5, 2012, a state agency medical consultant, A. Serpick, M.D., assessed Plaintiff's physical RFC. R. at 59-61, 69-71. Dr. Serpick opined that Plaintiff could (1) lift and/or carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; (2) stand and/or walk for a total of about six hours in an eight-hour workday; (3) sit for about six hours in an eight-hour workday; and (4) perform unlimited pushing and/or pulling. R. at 60, 70. Plaintiff occasionally could balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs (but never ladders, ropes, or scaffolds). R. at 60, 70. She had no manipulative, visual, communicative, or environmental limitations. R. at 60-61, 70-71.

         On April 8, 2013, another state agency consultant, E. Nakhuda, M.D., again assessed Plaintiff's physical RFC. R. at 82-84, 94-96. Dr. Nakhuda opined that Plaintiff could (1) lift and/or carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; (2) stand and/or walk for a total of about six hours in an eight-hour workday; (3) sit for about six hours in an eight-hour workday; and (4) perform unlimited pushing and/or pulling. R. at 83, 95. Dr. Nakhuda also opined that Plaintiff occasionally could balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs (but never ladders, ropes, or scaffolds). R. at 83, 95. Plaintiff had no manipulative, visual, communicative, or environmental limitations. R. at 83-84, 95-96.

         On April 9, 2013, another state agency consultant, E. Lessans, Ph.D., again used the PRT to evaluate Plaintiff's mental impairments under Listing 12.04. R. at 80-81, 92-93. Dr. Lessans opined that, under paragraph B of the applicable listing, Plaintiff's mental impairments caused her to experience (1) mild restriction in activities of daily living; (2) moderate difficulties in maintaining social functioning; (3) moderate difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace; and (4) one or two episodes of decompensation of extended duration. R. at 81, 93. Dr. Lessans did not find evidence to establish the presence of the criteria under paragraph C of the applicable listing. R. at 81, 93. Dr. Lessans thus assessed Plaintiff's mental RFC (R. at 84-85, 96-97) and opined that she was moderately limited in her ability to (1) maintain attention and concentration for extended periods; (2) complete a normal workday and workweek without interruptions from psychologically based symptoms and to perform at a consistent pace without an unreasonable number and length of rest periods; (3) interact appropriately with the general public; (4) accept instructions and to respond appropriately to criticism from supervisors; and to (5) get along with co-workers or peers without distracting them or exhibiting behavioral extremes. Plaintiff otherwise was not significantly limited. R. at 84-85, 96-97.

         B. Plaintiff's Testimony

         The ALJ summarized Plaintiff's testimony in his decision:

[Plaintiff] alleges that she is unable to work, due to her physical and mental impairments. [Plaintiff] testified at the hearing that her joints ache and swell, so she spends most of her day in bed. She explained that her feet swell [every day] and this makes it difficult to walk. She went on to contend that she is unable to lift even three pounds. [Plaintiff], moreover, argued that she lacks motivation for self-care. Thus, she testified that she does not shower or brush her teeth for days at a time. The testimony also alleges that she has no friends or hobbies, but she gets along well with all of her children.

R. at 15; see R. at 28-47.

         C. ...


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